There are many drought-tolerant plants available, including vines, trees, shrubs, and flowers that can look great and thrive, even if you go weeks without rainfall. These plants will help you minimize the money and time you have to spend on watering your yard or garden. Some even prefer to thrive planted in poor soil, so you may not even have to use fertilizer.
Picking Drought Tolerant Plants – Tips
When you start to look at drought tolerant plants, there are several small tips you can use to ensure that you get solid results. They include:
- After a heatwave or dry spell, take a stroll around your neighborhood and look at the plants. Any plants that still look healthy after these longer dry spells are great indicators of species that can hold their own through drought in your area.
- Try to pick out plants that have a reputation for being tolerant to drought. For example, succulents and cacti come in a stunning range of varieties. Plants like yucca and agave can make a stand-alone, unique feature in a low-water area. Succulents like hens and chicks and sedums can make a space incredibly visually stunning for borders, ground covers, or for impactful areas of your rock garden.
- Plants that are native to your area are often extremely adaptable to the local weather extremes and changes. For several plants, this includes being resistant to drought. Finding out about which plants are native in your area is a great starting point. These plants are often not water-wise, and they nurture other aspects of the ecosystem.
- Also, plants that are native to areas that are known to be very dry, like the Mediterranean basin, are probably good drought-tolerant plants for your space. So, you can look for plants that are native to other dry, hot spaces in the world and incorporate them into your garden or yard too.
1. Aloe (Aloe spp.)
Did you know that there are hundreds of aloe species available, including flowering succulents that grow in big rosette shapes and thrive in dry, hot climates? Most people know about the aloe vera species, but soap aloe, jewel aloe, and tiger aloe are also great drought tolerant plants. Depending on the species you pick out, aloe typically comes with a greenish-gray to bright green leaves, and they can have a mottled or striped appearance.
During the summer months, most of your aloe cultivars will need watering roughly once every other week, unless you get rainfall. During the wintertime, the combination of rainfall and cooler weather usually gives your plants enough water to survive without you having supplemental water. If you have a potted aloe, you want to let the soil dry completely out between watering sessions. Aloe is one drought tolerant plant that will start to shrivel up and rot if the soil is too wet, so make sure you have a very well-draining potting mix and adequate drainage holes in the container to keep it happy.
Ideally, your aloe vera plant requires to be in zones 10 to 12 to do well, especially if it’s outside. It can rarely produce flowers, and they’re yellow. It needs dry, sandy, well-draining soil, and you should put it in an area that gets full sun.
2. Artemisia (Artemisia spp.)
Artemisia is a plant genus that contains hundreds of species, ranging from shrubs to hardy herbs. For example tarragon is a culinary herb that is part of this large genus. These plants usually come with very intricate leaf patterns and white or silver-gray aromatic foliage. They do well planted in mixed borders with succulents and ornamental grasses, and other drought-tolerant plants. Some of the popular species you see commonly used for landscaping purposes include California sagebrush, southernwood, and white mugwort.
Water your seedlings whenever the soil starts to get dry. Once they’re established, these drought tolerant plants usually withstand a decent amount of heat and drought, so you won’t have to water them unless you have weeks without rain. Also, while most of these species thrive placed in full sun, they typically require a location that has shelter from stronger winds due to the delicate foliage.
For the best results, plant them in zones four to eight in a space that gets full sun but wind protection. They can produce whitish-yellow blooms under the correct conditions, and they need well-draining soil that is dry to medium moisture and very organically rich.
3. Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus)
You may not know that artichokes make nice ornamental plants. They usually have an upright growth habit that tops out at three to six feet. The leaves are very deeply lobed and they have prickly spines with a grayish-green to green coloring. The stems are also quite thick, and it’s the big flower buds this plant produces that get sold in the grocery store’s produce aisle. When you don’t harvest them but allow them to bloom, your artichoke flowers produce very pretty purple flowers.
If you live in a climate that commonly sees temperatures very similar to the native conditions this plant grows in, you can get a very pretty ornamental plant that produces edible artichokes from fall to spring. In this southern Mediterranean climate, it’s a very drought-tolerant and low-maintenance plant that only needs light watering once it establishes. Just make sure you put it in a well-draining soil with protection from the harsh winds.
For the best success with this drought-tolerant plant, grow it in zones 7 to 11. It’ll produce blue-violet blooms when it’s out in the full sun, and it loves a well-draining, loose soil that is very rich with medium moisture retention capabilities.
4. Beardtongue (Penstemon spp.)
Beardtongue is a genus that has over 250 species of flowering plants you can find all around North America. They grow in a range of climates, including mountains, deserts, and plains. These plants usually produce tube-shaped flowers that grow in big clusters on rigid stems, and this shape makes them very popular with hummingbirds. They’re also a great way to attract bees to your garden for the nectar output.
Once established, this is a low-maintenance and drought-tolerant plant. They may require that you water them once every few weeks if you haven’t had any rain. They also need very fast-draining soil to avoid root rot as they can’t tolerate soggy growing conditions. Under ideal growing conditions, this plant is a very aggressive spreader, so you’ll have to make a point to pull up new shoots if you wish to limit where they grow.
Grow this plant in zones three to eight for the best results. They can produce larger white flowers if they’re in an area that gets bright, full sunshine every day. They need dry to medium moisture soil that is average but drains very quickly.
5. Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’)
This is a very popular ornamental grass that is fast-growing, and it tends to form clumps of arching, narrow reddish-purple leaves that top out roughly three feet tall. During the summer, this grass produces flower spikes that extend above the leaves, and this gives it more ornamental value.
Fountain grass will be shiner and darker with full sun exposure, but it can also tolerate some shade and drought. If your area goes more than a few weeks without rainfall, it’s a good idea to water the plant. Also, you may need to stake your fountain plant for extra support, depending on how it grows. It should also go in a spot protected from stronger winds. If you’re worried about it spreading, Rubrum is a cultivar that rarely sets seeds, so it stays put.
This drought tolerant plant loves to grow in zones 9 to 10 in full sun to partial shade. It will produce pretty burgundy blooms that sit above the grass. It requires medium moisture soil that is very average for nutrient content and drains well.
6. Geranium (Pelargonium spp.)
Geraniums are very hardy plants that fall into the Pelargonium genus. Most species start to bloom in late spring, and there are a few new varieties that will keep blooming throughout the summer months right up to the first frost of the season. Geraniums are usually mound-forming, low-growing, plants that can look like a very small shrub. They’re also a plant that is long-lived, and it can easily survive for decades. This is also one of the easiest plants to propagate using cuttings.
Most geranium varieties are tolerant to drought and heat. Once they establish, they can go for long stretches without any water, but it’s a good idea to give them some water during the active growing season if it’s been a few weeks without rainfall. Also, pinch off or deadhead spent flowers to promote new blooms throughout the summer and fall months.
For your geraniums to be happy, you’ll want to plant them in zones 10 and 11, and they can produce orange, purple, pink, or white flowers. They do best in partial shade to full sun, and they like well-draining soil that is rich and medium moisture.
7. Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos spp.)
Native to Australia, the Anigozanthos genus only has 11 species and several subspecies in it. The green and red Kangaroo Paw is the floral emblem of Western Australia. These plants tend to form a rosette on a long green stalk with greenish-gray leaves at the base. From the rosette, it’s very common to see leafless, tall stalks emerge to add height to your garden.
These drought tolerant plants grow naturally in sandy, dry areas, and they can survive prolonged dry spells due to the sap they store in their roots. However, this unique plant flowers and grows best with a moderate amount of soil moisture, so water it if you haven’t gotten any rainfall in two weeks or so during spring and summer. In the winter, you most likely won’t have to water it. Protect your plants from strong winds and frost to keep them healthy. Any gardeners who live outside of this plants’ growing zone usually find success in overwintering them in a greenhouse.
For the best results, plant your Kangaroo Paw in zones 10 and 11 in partial shade to full sun. The flowers come in pink, red, or a yellowish-green color, and they like sandy but rich soil with a medium moisture level that drains well.
8. Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
Lavender tends to produce very visually appealing spikes of purplish-blue flowers that bloom throughout spring and summer. How your plant looks will vary across the genus. For example, some plants offer narrow, oval leaves while others have very intricate-looking foliage. There are also compact species while others have a shrub growth habit and top out at a few feet tall. This drought tolerant plant releases a calming fragrance, with silvery-green foliage and the flowers that are commonly harvested for the oils and then dried and used in sachets and potpourri.
Lavender grows naturally in the sandy, dry soil of the Mediterranean, and it has evolved to survive with very little water. Make a point to keep the soil evenly moist during the first year you have the plant. But, after this, you can generally only water it if the top few inches of soil dry out. Also, regularly pinch off or prune the spent flowers to encourage additional flowering during the spring and summer.
Plant your lavender in zones five to eight in full sun for the best results. You’ll see a flush of purple blooms on spikes, and it likes to be in a spot that has average soil that is on the dry side and drains very well.
9. New Zealand Tea Tree (Leptospermum scoparium)
This is an evergreen shrub that features prickly, small, aromatic leaves. It’s common to use the essential oil it produces, and well as things from the bark in alternative medicine. The plant has very pretty pink, white, or red flowers early in the summer months, and they are great for helping to attract pollinators and bees to your space.
Ideally, you want to water your plant regularly in the first year to keep the soil consistently moist. Established shrubs will only need a moderate moisture amount, and it has some drought tolerance. However, if you haven’t had rain in two weeks, you want to give it a drink. Also, make sure the soil is loose with great drainage as this plant won’t tolerate heavy soils. If you want, you can prune it to look like a smaller tree, but it doesn’t require pruning if you want to keep it natural.
Grow New Zealand Tea Tree in zones 9 to 10 for the best results. It can produce an impressive amount of pink, white, or red flowers when it blooms, and it likes to be in a spot with full sun. It requires soil that drains well, but it should also be very acidic and rich.
10. Palo Verde (Parkinsonia spp.)
Parkinsonia is a very small genus that contains flowering plants, and they’re part of the pea family. Plants inside of this genus are usually small trees or big shrubs with light green bark and sparse foliage. The plants are considered dry season deciduous, and this means that they’ll lose their foliage in the dry season and leaf out during the rainiest part of the year. So, it’s the branches that carry out photosynthesis to keep the plant growing.
Palo Verde is native to semi-desert areas in Africa and the Americas, so they are an excellent drought-tolerant plant. Water your new trees every week during the hot weather to help them establish. Then, you typically won’t have to water established plants unless you go months without any rain. Also, you can prune the tree to help maintain the shape on the canopy in warm weather. Cold-weather pruning will cause the limbs to die off.
This plant does best in zones 8 to 10, and you want to put it in a location that gets bright, full sun each day. It produces white or yellow flowers when it’s healthy, and it thrives planted in dry, average, and well-draining soil.
11. Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans)
This evergreen flowering plant is native to the island of Madeira, as the name suggests. It has a large mounding growth habit, and it can top out at five to six feet high with a 6 to 10 foot spread. During the first year when you plant it, it’ll produce rosettes with narrow, long, grayish-green leaves. During the second year, it’ll produce taller flower spikes that are covered with clusters of blooms and leaves.
Since this plant is at home on rocky cliffs, it can survive in dry soil conditions in a rock garden. It works well for xeriscaping with coastal, rocky soil, and it requires great drainage. Water your plant regularly during the first year but then cut back to only during long dry spells. If you prune the faded flower spikes, this will encourage it to grow healthy and new in the spring.
This plant does best in zones 9 to 11, and you want to ensure that you put it in a space that gets full sun. It produces white or blue-violet flowers, and it likes dry to medium moisture, average soil.
12. Pencil Cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli)
Also known as Indian tree spurge or sticks on fire, this drought tolerant plant is a very striking shrub or tree that can easily top out at 20 to 30 feet tall. It produces slender stems with oval, small leaves that can come in shades of red, green, yellow, or orange. The colors are brighter if you give it a lot of sunlight.
This drought tolerant plant is native to semi-arid tropical climates, and this makes it tolerant to a range conditions. It prefers fast-draining soil and drier weather. You want to avoid overwatering it at all costs because Pencil Cactus is prone to developing problems with fungal and bacterial diseases. You want to water a new plant weekly, but limit your watering to long dry spells for established specimens.
- HappyDIYHome Warning: Wear gloves when you handle this plant. It produces a very poisonous sap that can cause temporary blindness and irritate your skin. It can also cause allergic reactions.
For the best results, grow it in zones 11 and 12 in a space that gets full sun. If you get the growing conditions correct, it’ll produce cheerful yellow flowers. It likes well-draining soil that is dry to average moisture levels.
13. Sweet Potato Vine (Ipomea batatas)
Sweet potatoes are very commonly grown for the pretty foliage they produce and their tubers. This edible vine has heart-shaped leaves that trail from your containers, on support structures, or over garden walls. They also make a pretty ground cover, and there are several varieties to choose from that feature different colored foliage, including purple, green, chartreuse, and bronze. Planting them in full sun will bring out the brightest color profile.
These are very low-maintenance vines once they establish. You want to water new plants once a week and taper off to only water during hot spells or months without rain. This drought tolerant plant is also a very vigorous grower, so you can prune them lightly to keep their shape.
To keep your sweet potato vines healthy, plant them in zones 9 to 11 in a spot that gets full sun. They can produce violet or pink blooms, and they love to be in well-draining soil with medium moisture.
14. Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans)
Trumpet vines are drought tolerant plants that flower and grow in a range of conditions. They prefer average moisture levels in average soil, and they are a very vigorous grower that have bright green leaves that will eventually turn a deep green as the plant matures. Trumpet Vines can also produce showy red and orange flowers in the summer to attract hummingbirds.
With the proper care, these drought tolerant plants can survive for decades, dying back in the winter and coming back in the spring. They flower best when exposed to full sun, but they like afternoon shade in hotter climates. You usually don’t have to water established vines unless you go weeks without rainfall or it’s extremely hot. The most maintenance you’ll have to do for this drought tolerant plant is to prune it to limit how far it spreads. They produce new plants using underground stems that self-seed, so they can choke out other plants if you don’t catch them.
Plant your Trumpet Vine in zones four to nine and watch them produce pretty red or orange flowers in the summer. They love partial to full shade, and the soil should be dry to medium moisture and drain well.
15. Wild Lilac (Ceanothus spp.)
The final drought tolerant plant on the list is Wild Lilac. This is a very colorful and fragrant shrub or tree, and they’re both drought-tolerant and evergreen. You can use them as landscaping screens, ground covers, hedges, and borders. Most of the native species come from California, but you can find some growing in the eastern portion of the United States, as well as in the Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountains, and in Mexico. Some will have an upright growth habit, some spread out as they grow, and some are bushy and compact.
Ideally, you’ll water new plants once a week to promote strong growth. After that, you won’t have to water them unless you have a long dry spell. You also won’t typically need to fertilize them unless your soil quality is very poor. Prune no more than ⅓ of the shrub each year to help keep the shape, and it can live for up to 25 years.
Wild Lilacs do best planted in zones 7 to 10, and they can produce fragrant white, purple, or blue flowers. They love to be in full sun, and they like well-draining soil that is dry to medium moisture and average fertility.
Six Tips for Establishing Drought-Tolerant Plants
Plants are very fun specimens. However, they require you to care for them as it’s not like they can get up and go get a drink when they need it. They require Mother Nature and you to ensure they thrive.
When anything is planted, including drought tolerant plants, the roots will extend out only as far as the potting soil. Over the next few months after you plant them, new roots will start to grow into the surrounding soil. During the first winter period, any new plant will require regular moisture in the soil to help the roots establish. This requires that the gardener stay vigilant and monitor the young plants, including the wind, temperatures, and the amount of rain. You’ll supply water when the plant needs it to keep it growing. Below, you’ll find tips for helping establish your drought tolerant plants.
Pick Plants That can Tolerate Drought and a Broad Temperature Range
Native plants require less moisture to thrive and they can help make life easier for any stressed-out wildlife. For example, plants that have longer taproots, like butterfly weed, can get through long stretches of drought with no or little supplemental water. Also, consider planting hardy native shrubs.
Evenly Distribute Irrigation Water
You want to make sure to wet your plant’s root ball from the container as well as the surrounding few inches of native soil when you plant it. Plants can’t shift water from one side to the other, so if you only water on one side, you’ll only get growth on that side. Watch for wilting or drooping and evenly water as needed.
Plant in the Autumn Months
As the rains start to come and cooler weather rolls in, evaporation rates drop and the soil starts to retain moisture longer. So, your new plants will require less water. If the drought continues, you’ll need to water just enough so they don’t wilt. If you choose to plant in the spring, you’ll water more to keep up with the climbing temperatures.
Reduce Your Watering During Summer
Ideally, you’ll apply enough water to wet the top 18 inches of soil. Apply your water very slowly so it penetrates the soil and doesn’t run off. If you have heavier clay-based soil, you want to apply the water slowly, over longer periods, to penetrate the whole root zone. If you have a problem with runoff, run short bursts of water, stopping and allowing it to soak in between bursts.
Use Water-Conserving Equipment
Soaker hoses, watering cans, and drip irrigation systems help to minimize evaporation by putting water directly into the soil instead of spraying it out into the air. Consider hooking your downspouts up to rain barrels to collect water for irrigation.
Water Frequently and Deeply During the First Year
In warmer months, recently planted drought tolerant plants will need more water to help establish the root system, roughly every other day. The roots of your young plants need more moisture to grow out and spread into the soil. Growing a large root system at this time will help the plant survive drought later.
We’ve outlined 15 drought tolerant plants you can consider adding to your landscape to help conserve water while still getting a stunning look. You can mix and match with native plants to fill in your garden and get plants that last for years.